Mar 8, 2012

Cheese is the Apple of Wisconsin

Editorial excerpted from Milwaukee Biz Blog
By Ken Harwood

As I sit here deciding whether or not to buy the New iPad from Apple, I was wondering, “Does Wisconsin have an Apple?”

Turns out the answer is yes, and, cue the spotlight, drum-roll please, the answer is cheese. Let’s compare, Apple Computer vs. Wisconsin Cheese: huge brand awareness – check, market dominance – check, innovative new products – check, a great company to promote the brand – you don’t know the half of it.

It turns out that our dairy business has the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB), and they are the rock star of all things cheese. They work diligently to keep Wisconsin’s dairy products on every grocery shelf, in every fine restaurant, and in your refrigerator and they are very, very good at it.

“Our job is straightforward – to create demand for Wisconsin milk,” says Patrick Geoghegan, senior vice president of corporate communications at WMMB. “We do this by focusing primarily on the promotion of Wisconsin cheese since about 90 percent of the milk in this state goes into cheesemaking. But we also promote the consumption of all Wisconsin dairy products through a variety of strategies and tactics, from retail and foodservice promotional efforts in all 50 states to advertising and the use of social media.”

Each year WMMB invests north of 25 million dollars on national advertising, public relations, local markets and grassroots promotions, funds the Wisconsin Dairy Council (the nutrition education arm of WMMB) and provides nearly half of the funding for the UW Center for Dairy Research. They also provide Market Research, and Technical Services as well as partnering with the cheese companies in the state.

Holly cow Batman (cow, get it?), you mean 25 million of my hard earned tax dollars goes to promote cheese? NO, actually the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is farmer-owned, farmer-directed and farmer funded — ten cents from every 100 pounds of milk produced in the state goes to WMMB. An additional five cents goes to the National Dairy Promotion & Research Board for generic dairy promotion activities at the national level.

“In 1983, Wisconsin dairy farmers decided to create a checkoff program to promote the consumption of dairy products made from Wisconsin milk,” Geoghegan points out. “The operations of the organization are overseen by a board of 25 dairy farmers who are elected by their peers. They oversee the development of our plans and budgets and monitor our activities. Since the time we were established, per capita cheese consumption has grown by more than 50 percent and total milk usage has increased by 38 percent. Other states also became active in promotion of their dairy products and while Wisconsin’s market share of total milk and cheese has fallen, total state milk production has grown 11 percent and cheese production has increased more than 50 percent. “The pie has gotten much larger as a result and Wisconsin has benefitted,” says Geoghegan. “The Center for Dairy Profitability at UW-Madison has estimated that more than 90 percent of farmers’ income is reinvested in their local communities, which creates a powerful economic engine for all of Wisconsin whether you live on a dairy farm or not. Farmers’ tax dollars pay for good roads, excellent schools and other critical elements of what makes Wisconsin special.”

And one of the best features of the dairy industry for Wisconsin’s economy is that it’s steady. “It’s hard to tell a cow to stop producing milk when prices fluctuate, Geoghegan says. “So, it provides great stability to the Wisconsin economy.”

UW-Madison researchers have estimated that Wisconsin’s dairy industry generates more than $26.5 billion in economic activity for the state and nearly 150,000 jobs, making it Wisconsin’s most important single economic sector.

Read the full editorial